Disclaimer: I don't own Neopets the Darkest Faerie

Chapter 19

The first stage to learning Smoke Step was controlling the time. While in everybody else's eyes everything carried on as normal, the user of the Smoke Step can speed up or slow down the time. Then you haave the ability to disappear and reappear in the same instant somewhere else, or you can disappear for hours at a time. To complete this task, you have to concentrate one what you want to happen before you made the activation movements.

Tor looked at Grayson who was helping him accomplish Smoke Step. He had ordered Grayson to move around so that he could see whether or not it worked. He had read up on what he was supposed to do for three weeks. There were so many things that could go wrong when using transportation magic, such as getting stuck in a vortex. That would be no good.

Slowly Tor raised his hands. There would come a time if he continued to practice that he would not need to make the hand movements to start the first stage of Smoke Step. For now he would use them. With his left hand held with his fingers pointed upwards and his palm held out to his right hand, his right hand formed a fist. He smacked his fist into his palm before pulling it back. His fist opened and he clapped his palms together. He held them there and intertwined his fingers together, his left forefinger still pointed up.

Nothing happened. Grayson was still moving at the same speed even though Tor had been concentrating for the time to slow down. He hadn't really expected to get it right on the first try, but he had still hoped. Like Roberta had once explained, most neopets were not as in touch with there magical core as some others. Though Tor had a stronger core than many, it wasn't like Roberta's or other sorcerers. He could keep doing the same thing for months without results. He would have to continue strengthening his core, meditating, eating things that had magic in them such as purple juppies, and just practicing magic.

Just from practicing and trying to make the time speed part of Smoke Step work, Tor could feel his magic being drained, which was a good sign. That meant that at least there was something happening, even if he wasn't getting noticeable results. Two hours passed and Tor decided to call it quits for the day. He could feel his magic severely depleted.

"So why are you doing this again?" Grayson asked as they walked through the courtyard.

"I need every advantage that I can get to take on the Assassin. He is a master in many magics, including the Smoke Step and he is an incredible swordsman."

"So… you and Roberta combined."

Tor chuckled quietly. "Yes, but better."

Grayson shivered. "Roberta is a little scary when she's…"

"In the zone?"

"Yeah."

Tor grinned. "You get used to it. I thought the same thing when we met, but really, it's a good thing when you're surrounded by enemies. I couldn't imagine doing all that by myself." He pushed open the door and walked into the castle. He stopped and looked down the hallway he was standing in with a small frown, and then glanced at Grayson. "This corridor is normally filled with guards."

Grayson shrugged. "It's about dinner time. They're probably heading down to the dining hall already."

Somehow, Tor didn't think that dinner had anything to do with it, but he continued walking anyway. They rounded the corner into the entrance hall and Tor nearly tripped over his feet when he saw the Brightvale knights, the guards, and some of the Meridell knights standing on either side of the long carpet that led to the Throne Room. He stepped up to Ebard who was standing on the end. He was even more shocked to see Roberta standing on the other side of the carpet, facing him.

"What's going on here?" he asked, looking for Master Torak in the line. The grarrl was not there and Tor suspected that he was in the Throne Room. He turned to Roberta, seeing her grim expression.

"Market Town was attacked last night. Werelupes. And we've heard that the creatures of the swamp have been growing restless, venturing into the village."

Tor drew in a sharp intake of breath and he heard Grayson do the same. He looked at the closed doors of the Throne Room. "A meeting between the Kings?"

"And Guildmaster Marl."

"Do you know of anybody who was killed?" Grayson asked and Roberta looked over at him.

"Your father is fine. But Steen, Palk, and Kaethor were killed. Overall, Market Town was lucky."

Tor now understood why King Hagan had gone through the trouble of coming to Meridell. He looked at Roberta, his expression matching hers. Without a words she crossed the carpet to stand in front of him. "If Maket Town falls, everything goes under with it," he said quietly and Roberta nodded. Market Town was the center of the two Kingdoms. That was where everything came from, food, metals, weapons, everything. "They're declaring war, aren't they?"

"I always thought it would be King Skarl to be the one to initiate it," she said with a rueful smile that confirmed Tor's question. "When my uncle heard he went insane. He ordered a patrol of knights to ready the carriage of the fastest unis to take him here."

Tor shook his head, thinking of the night before. He had felt that same terrible feeling before when the knights left for Illusen's Glade. "We both knew that it wouldn't be much longer." Roberta nodded in agreement. "So what's going to happen next?"

Roberta shrugged. "That's what they're talking about in there. We should be there too."

That was something that everyone in the entrance hall could agree on, even if nobody voiced it. They knew the most about fighting werelupes, ixies, and the plant monsters. They had fought the Assassin on several occasions. Hey had earned their place in the Throne Room for moments like this. Especially Roberta who had grown up a diplomat.

"Is Seradar in there?"

"Yes. As are Torako—Master Torak and Master Caradoc."

Tor ignored her slip with Master Torak, having almost called him by his Altador name. He'd done the same thing before with the grarrl and with Faun. Instead he said, "Master Caradoc?"

"Our last Man at Arms retired. Caradoc took his place before the first attack on Brightvale."

Now Tor remembered Caradoc walking out of King Hagan's Throne Room when he had gone to speak with the King that day. It hadn't crossed his mind then. He glanced at the large oak doors, wishing that he could be in that room. As he looked they opened slowly. Roberta quickly stepped back until she was on the edge of the carpet. Nobody spoke as Master Torak came to stand on Tor's left, closest to the Kings and the Guildmaster of Market Town. Master Caradoc was on Roberta's right, across from Master Torak. Everyone looked at the kings.

"These attacks have gone far enough," King Skarl spoke. "It is time that we strike back. We will begin preparations for war."

"Messangers will be sent out to the other villages and give them word," King Hagan said. "Everybody from the age of fifteen and older will fight. Weapons and armor will be given out."

Tor stepped forward and all eyes fell on him. "I can travel out to the farm lands and start spreading word there. And I have extra armor that may be used."

"Very well," King Skarl grunted. "But afterwards you will immediately travel to Brightvale. You and Roberta have the most experience and we have decided that the two of you will make the battle plans."

"Yes Your Majesty," Tor dipped his head and moved back into place. He glanced over at Roberta and she gave him a small nod. He could practically see all of the ideas just swarming through her head. And he had a few of his own too.

The two groups began to disperse, Guildsmaster Marl heading out with those of Brightvale and the Meridell knights and guards began to make preparations. Tor caught Roberta's arm just before she walked out the door.

"I'll see you in a day or two. I've got some ideas and I know that you do too," he said quietly.

Roberta nodded and gave him a very brief hug. "I'll start writing everything down. I'll see you in Brightvale. Be careful."

"You too."

Tor bypassed everyone to get to his chambers. He equipped his armor and went into the trunk at the foot of his bed. The bottomless sack was at the top. He threw in extra clothes, his neopoints, and anything else he might need until he next returned to Meridell, including his books. Once finished he made his way back downstairs. He knew that a uni would be waiting for him at the North Gate.

"Tormund!"

The lupe looked over at Master Torak who had been standing in the shadows of a pillar. As he watched the grarrl stepped forward, followed by Servant Faun. "Yes sir?" he questioned, feeling rather confused by the appearance of the second Altadorian hero.

"We must speak to you quickly, Young Master," Faun said quietly, addressing Tor as she normally did. Tor looked at her, his confusion growing even more.

"Our time here is growing thin," Torakor said. "After the final battle we will be gone."

Tor looked back and forth between the two, past imagaes of them floating through his mind. Torakor had taught him nearly everything he knew about fighting. Fauna had showed him that every being, even miamice, deserved to be treated fairly. They had been his mentors as a squire. "What do you mean? You… you can't leave!"

"We must," Fauna said with a sad smile. "We came here to ensure that you, the chosen one, would take the right path. We guided you for as long as we could, and you have done very well. We have no reason to be here any longer."

"But… if you just leave then there will be questions."

"Not if I were to die in battle," Torakor said even though Tor knew that he hated the mere thought of losing in battle, even if it was all going to be fake.

"And nobody will notice the disappearance of a mere servant," Fauna said. She reached up and put a hand on Tor's shoulder. "This may very well be the last time we meet. I wish you luck, Sir Tormund Ellis."

Tor dipped his head solemnly to both of the heroes. "Thank you for telling me beforehand. And this will not be the last time we meet. You aren't leaving until after the battle after all."

Apparently it had been a bit of a picnic that day at the farms. When Tor landed all of the children had been sitting around Old Man Boggs, listening to one of his stories. Turk, Arnie, Aryanna, and Jamie were all sitting on a fence. His parents were with Tessa, Addison, Carla, Bruce and Sandy at a small picnic table. Now everybody was standing in a familiar U shape in front of Tor. The kids were in Tessa's house as were Tor's orders.

"War is beginning," he announced. "Market Town was attacked by the werelupes last night. I'm sure that you are all aware that if Market Town goes under, so does everywhere else. Right now Meridell and Brightvale are preparing for an attack. It is King Skarl's and King Hagan's orders that all men will be participating if they are over the age of fifteen. Women have the choice, the same as it has always been."

"And what of Cogham and Bogshot?" Bruce asked skeptically. "It won't be only us, will it?"

"Of course not. Messengers have been sent to both villages. Those of Market Town will also be participating, as will those of Brightvale and Meridell. Soon I will be going to Brightvale to help Roberta come up with a plan for battle. Word will be sent with those plans. As for weapons, I will provide them. Tomorrow morning everyone who will be fighting meet at my parents' house. Do not worry about how my armor will fit. All of it requires only a drop of blood and it will fit to you."

"And what of the kids?" Tessa asked. "What do we tell them?"

"Nothing yet." Tor smiled wistfully. "I remember being a kid and I loved these days. I know that they do too. So for tonight, just keep celebrating. I'll leave it up to you all to speak to them when you feel that the time is right."

"When are you leaving again?" Aryanna asked.

Tor glanced up at the sky. It would be after midnight if he were to leave for Brightvale now, and he had to make sure that everyone got their armor and weapons in the morning. "Tomorrow morning. I have to get to Brightvale, but it's too late to leave now. One more thing before the kids come back out. Have the farmlands been attacked since I left."

"Not once," his father answered. "Now relax for a little whil. You look like you need it. Tessa, you go and tll the children that they can come back outside now."

Soon they began to disperse into the same groups as before. Tor joined Turk, Aryanna, Jamie, and Arnie on the fence while the kids switched to playing hide and seek. Tor looked at his friends, all of whom were staring at him with unreadable expressions.

"What?"

"You look stressed," Aryanna commented.

"War was declared today," he snapped. "What do you expect? I've been training since before the sun came up and then that was thrown on me!"

"You were expecting it to happen sooner or later," Turk reminded him. "You warned us of this before you left. Addison has been carrying his bow on his back everywhere, and I always have my sword on me."

"Good. Stay in that habbit, because you'll be called out soon. I've got plans already, and so does Roberta."

"How is she?" Aryanna questioned. Tor shrugged.

"I haven't seen her in nearly as long as it's been since I've been here. Stressed I guess. She's got to be happy that her uncle is willingly putting her on the frontlines rather than forcing her not to fight. Not like he would succeed in that though."

"And what about you?" Jamie asked. "How have you been until today?"

Tor looked over at the slightly older acara. She only had about two years on him so she had always been fairly close with them. "I've been training a lot. Trying different techniques for when I fight the Assassin. I've been working on a transportation technique called Smoke Step. If I can learn that then I might get the advantage of surprise. I just have to strengthen my magical core by practicing."

"I thought that very few neopets could do magic," Arnie said.

"That's how most think," Tor nodded, remembering Roberta's many explanations on the subject. "But it's not true. Some neopets are just born with a stronger core, like Roberta for example, and those neopets normally pick up spells very easily. But everyone has a magical core and everyone has the ability to strengthen it and do magic. I don't plan on doing all that much, just learn a few different things that will give me an advantage."

"Will there be enough armor for everyone?" Turk asked.

"There should be enough. And if not I'll have some sent from Meridell. Turk, before the battle begins I want you to teach everyone the fighting moves I showed you."

"I have been doing that already. Arnie picked them up pretty quick actually."

The younger techno looked at Tor. "Will I really have to fight?"

Tor nodded slowly. "You're fifteen. Those are the rules. But don't worry too much about it. Everyone will be working together here. Nobody will be left behind. I'll be there too."

Arnie smirked. "Well that's promising."

Tor gave him an indignant look. "I am a knight of first class and a Hero of Neopia! And I have fought countless of these monsters!"

"I'm sure."

Tor clamped his mouth shut and glared at Arnie. Jamie, Aryanna and turk were all shaking with laughter. "Why is it that every time I come back, you all love to make fun of me."

"It's only because we care about you," Aryanna grinned and nudged him. "And at least we aren't telling Roberta embarrassing stories about you."

"I will never forgive you for that. Roberta is never going to let me live it down."

"That was the plan all along."

….

Everything seemed to shimmer. That was Tor's first clue that he had done something right. His second clue was that he was unable to move his feet. He hadn't activated that step yet. His third clue was a butterfly. It seemed to just hover in the air, but when he continued to watch Tor realized that it was moving ever so slowly. Happy with his success, Tor murmured, "Grant me the ability to move freely and in return I shall offer my blood to you."

That was what the book had told him to do. Tor didn't quite undersand why his blood was necessary, but who was he to argue? He felt a small breeze and he raised his arms and moved his feet. He had only a minute to give his blood, so he took out his sword and ran his thumb down the blade. He held his hand out to the side, his thumb pointing down and watched as three drops hit the ground.

Tor looked around. There was not a single movement currently visible. He took a step forward and looked down at his feet. When his right foot touched the ground, it seemed to ripple like disturbed water. He walked up to the butterfly and reached out to grab it. His hand only passed straight through the tiny creature, causing the air to ripple.

Suddenly he began to feel lightheaded. His magic supply was being drained from the technique. Quickly he canceled the magic. Purple smoke appeared around him as he stepped back into normal time. Tor dropped to his knees, gasping for breath.

"Are you alright?"

The familiar voice seemed to come out of nowhere. Tor looked up in shock. "Roberta? What are you doing here?"

The acara rolled her eyes and sat down in front of him with crossed legs. "My uncle was worried. He had expected you in Brightvale last night. I tried to tell him that you most likely spnt the night with your family, but he sent me anyway."

"He really thinks I need to be checked up on?"

"In times like these, who can be sure of anything anymore?" Roberta frowned and looked at the whinnies in their pen for a few moments. Tor followed her gaze and noticed Solarin grazing next to his own uni. "So you learned Smoke Step already?"

"That's the first time I was successful actually. And that drained me a lot as you can see."

"Well that can be fixed with practice. I've been working on healing spells these past few weeks, along with Smoke Step."

"Any luck with it?"

Roberta nodded. "About as much as you have. I think that being able to heal wounds is a bigger priority for me." She looked over to the farm gates and Tor pricked his ears. He could pick out the sound of approaching footsteps. A few seconds later several neopets came into view. There was Turk, already in his armor, Arnie, Bruce, Farmer Addison, Jamie and Aryanna.

At the sight of the two acaras Tor did a double take. Were they really choosing to be in the battle? He looked at Roberta, knowing that she was sharing his thoughts. Slowly they got to their feet and waited for the group to approach. The sound of a door opening let Tor know that his father was coming to join them.

"Roberta, what are you doing here?" Aryanna asked with a large smile.

"I was sent to see if Tor was alright. And I brought extra armor just in case, and Addison, I have something else for you."

Tor raised his eyebrows questioningly, but said nothing as he led the way to the weapon shed. Roberta whistled to Solarin and the uni trotted over to her side. "What do you have for him?" Tor asked curiously, leaning down to whisper in her ear.

Roberta grinned. "You'll see. I think you'll appreciate it just as much."

Tor frown in thought as he unlocked the door. Roberta lowered a large sack off of Solarin's back and he could hear metal moving around from inside of it. He walked inside and looked around thoughtfully. "Dad, you'll take my gilded armor. It's pretty heavy as far as they go, so I think you would be the best match. As for a shield and sword," Tor opened a crate and lifted out a round shield with Altador's crest along with a matching sword. "I bought these from Altador. They're light so you won't have trouble moving around, even with the heavy armor.

"Arnie, I want you to have the very first armor I bought as a knight, along with the shield and sword that go with it. Turk help him put it on. Bruce, Roberta will have armor for you."

"Alright, so what about us?" Aryanna asked. "You don't have any more armor."

Tor looked at her, and then at Jamie. "You two don't have to fight," he said quietly. "We have enough fighters already between the other knights and the men who live in Meridell and Brightvale. You two don't have to do this."

"We're fighting Tor," Jamie said defiantly. "The rules say that women get to choose. We've made our choice."

Tor looked between the two sisters several times, not knowing what to think. It was bad enough that Turk was fighting, but now the three others that he had grown up with were too. Finally Tor nodded and turned to Roberta. "I have three more swords. Give them armor."

Roberta nodded and the two sisters walked over to her. Tor looked at Addison. "What about me Tor?" the scorchio asked. I won't be all that useful with a sword."

Tor nodded. "You're an amazing bowman, and I don't know what Roberta has for you, but I do want you to keep a sword at all times." He turned and reached into a barrel, pulling a sword out by the blade and holding the hilt to Addison. "This was the sword that I trained with as a squire."

With everyone now equipped with their armor and swords, Tor walked out of the shed and joined Roberta. Aryanna had gotten his kreludan blade and he had given Jamie the sword he picked up on his way to the treasure vault when the statue had been destroyed. Everyone lined up in front of them, dressed in shining armor, except for Addison. Roberta turned and opened the sack again, bringing out blood red and blue robes with golden trim. She held them out to Addison.

"These are special archer's robes. They are woven with protective magic, much like my own battle robes and the way Tor's armor was made with protective magic." Once Addison had taken his new robes and had begun putting them on over his clothes, Roberta went back to the sack and pulled out a bow along with a leather quiver of arrows. The bow was made of pine and engraved with intricate designs that Tor was easily able to recognize as Altadorian symbols. He had seen the same designs all across the city of Altador in every district. When Roberta had bought the bow, he didn't know.

"These are all from Altador. You should try practicing with it a little to get the feel of it, but from what Tor has said I doubt you will have any problems." She looked at Tor her grin disappearing. "We have to get going you know."

"Yeah… I know."

She put her hand on his shoulder. "I'll give you a few minutes here, and then you can say goodbye to your mother and sister."

"Thanks."

Roberta whistled to Solarin who had been sniffing around the shed and the uni trotted after her as she walked back down to the house. Tor looked back at everybody already feeling heavy. How many times would he have to say goodbye to these neopets without knowing if he would ever see them again?